During World War II, as Americans were planting backyard victory gardens, residents of Burgundy, France responded to wartime privation in the most French way imaginable: They created an elegant cocktail out of Nazi-resistant wine.
The Kir cocktail is made with one part crème de cassis, or blackcurrant liqueur, and four parts dry white wine. Its festive cousin, the Kir Royale, is blackcurrant liqueur plus Champagne
Both cocktails are reportedly named for Felix Kir, a Catholic priest and decorated member of the French resistance. When Nazi soldiers marched into Dijon, Burgundy, in 1940, many local officials fled. Kir remained in the city, helping more than 4,000 prisoners of war escape from a nearby camp.
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As legend has it, when Nazis confiscated Burgundy’s iconic red wines, Kir defiantly devised his namesake cocktail. He combined the available dry white wine, Aligoté, with blackcurrant liqueur in an attempt to mimic the color of Burgundy’s classic reds.
Kir “kept his chin up and declared the red-tinted drink the official beverage of Dijon’s city hall,” writes Elizabeth G. Dunn in the Wall Street Journal. It’s an inspiring tale of perseverance and self-determination, if admittedly tough to fact-check.
Kir’s war heroism earned him inclusion in France’s Legion d’honneur, and he served as mayor of Dijon from 1945 until his death in 1968.
In recent years, the Kir and Kir Royale have resurged in international bars and restaurants, as more liqueurs come to market and skilled bartenders adapt the drink for modern palates. In most instances, its flavor profile is light, crisp, and subtly fortifying. It tastes like resistance.
Recipe: Classic Kir Royale
You can easily adapt this elegant aperitif into the more subdued Kir by swapping equal parts Champagne for dry white wine, such as Aligoté.
- 1/2 ounce crème de cassis, such as LeJay Crème de Cassis de Dijon or Chambord
- Brut Champagne to top (approximately 3 1/2 to 4 ounces)
- Pour crème de cassis into a Champagne flute.
- Top with Champagne.